It all started with an eclectic mix of bearded, baseball-cap-wearing young professionals and entrepreneurs in shirt and suit gathering in front a lustrous bus in Berlin to head to the fancy Polish seaside. Don’t get mistaken though. We’re not talking about a leisure trip here but a training. One, during which seven startup teams – five from Germany and two from Poland – fiercely battled for the opportunity of pitching at InfoShare.
- qDatum, a platform for data providers and consumers to share raw and aggregate data
- Trackfellas: a community-based platform and marketplace for travellers
- Healthywell: a management tool based on patient feedback for the hospital environment
- Colorimetrix: mobile solutions for digitizing chemical and biomedical tests like a lab in your pocket
- Gambify: a social app allowing you to bet on football games and compete with your friends
- InStream.io, a software improving management and communication for business relations
- Modimodi, a platform enabling you to design and customise furniture to your taste.
On board were also Krakow-based TV producer James Paul Pearson, German initiative Get Started/BITKOM’s Christian Rietz, and some of EIT Digital masterminds behind the whole trip, including Oliver Bey and Maren Lesche.
Bus pitching on the way to infoshare
The journey begins
Participants got no chance of dozing off during the ten-hour bus ride as they went through serious pitching sessions with coaching legends Bianca Praetorius and Christoph Sollich. Oliver Bey, Innovation Manager at EIT Digital, explained that as “pitching is all about getting out of one’s comfort zone, it was really challenging for those teams to focus and concentrate on their pitches in such a shaky and noisy environment.”
After getting their feedback and going through the iterations again and again, I really felt in a good and productive spirit despite being on a bus.
Marc Höffl, founder of Gambify.
“It was a very long ride but it was totally worth it. We saw a lot of improvement in their pitches at the end of the day and one of our startups [qDatum] made it to the finals at InfoShare’s startup contest,” Bey explained.
As EIT Digital seeks to reach out to countries where they were not active yet, they came up with the idea of the trip a few months ago. Bey explained he targeted Poland because of its big market and its proximity to the Berlin ecosystem, as well as for its dynamic startup environment and well-established VC scene. “Usually, in Germany people look toward the West, but I decided to connect Berlin-based startups with Polish startups on a bus to get coached together. I also wanted to make InfoShare a bit more international,” he said.
While Krakow and Warsaw’s startup hives are the first coming to mind, tech clusters in Poznan and Gdansk are gaining momentum as well. Entrepreneurship is booming, boosted by an increased number of angel investors, of accelerators such as Inkubator Starter, Smart Space and VCs including Satus Ventures, Innovation Nest, SpeedUp Group and VC/corporate accelerator D-Raft.
A few companies including Brainly, DocPlanner, Estimote, and Livechat, whose IPO last year was valued at 476.4M dollars, are also receiving a healthy amount of attention. Events such as InfoShare, Bitspiration and InternetBeta Conference help shedding light on the country as well.
Networking at InfoShare in Poland;
Despite being on a fast track, the country has a long way to go to catch up with its dynamic German neighbour. According to Clevis Research CEO Ludwig Preller, the Polish market is eight to ten years behind the German one. Based on his research, VC investments in Poland topped 12,57 million euros in 2014, representin only 0,005% of the GDP, against 0,024 in average in EU countries.
If Poland is renowned for its top-notch programmers, local experts report a lack of influencers in big companiesto support the startup scene and of entrepreneurial education. Furthermore, Startup Poland’s CEO, Eliza Kruczkowska highlights the lack of know-how regarding the use of available funding, the lack of innovators and the fact that Poland cannot keep building competitiveness on cheap workforce, since it entered the group of “wealthy countries” in 2010.
Initiatives to boost the scene
To increase cooperation between incubators, business and universities, EIT Digital seeks to get Polish partners to join Arise Europe programme, strengthen Polish entrepreneurs’ presence on the European scene while increasing their potential at the local scale.
According to Michal Banka, Director of the Department of Business Environment Institutions Support at the Polish Agency for Enterprise Development (PARP) the public sector has recently developed a series of instruments to boost entrepreneurship,such as an innovation loan fund, Starter seed fund provided with 5 to 10 million euros, and a network of business angels.
Meanwhile, lobbying group Startup Poland campaigns for the removal of barriers limiting the development of startups and the favourable environment for entrepreneurship to thrive.
Starting this month, Warsaw’s National Stadium in will host the biggest business accelerator in Europe, providing working space for 850 startups. Moreover, the world’s third Google Campus is also due to open in the city this year.
This story is brought to you in partnership with EIT Digital.